Gratitude as a Spiritual Practice
Whether you are celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving or adding a spiritual twist to it like me and are making it simply about being grateful, today is the day we think about gratitude more than any other day.
We typically think of gratitude as a pleasant emotion that we experience when we receive something desired, or we think of someone or something in our lives that we appreciate.
But gratitude experienced intentionally is a powerful spiritual practice. While more and more people are becoming aware of its value and use a gratitude journal or other ways of practicing it, I'm realizing through my work with clients that in most cases their practice lacks the most crucial ingredient. The actual feeling of gratitude in the body. And without the feeling, this becomes an intellectual process. In other words, we are "thinking" gratitude rather than feeling it, and therefore missing the true transformative power of this state of being.
Yes, it is a state of being, it transforms us mentally, emotionally, physiologically, and energetically. If practiced consistently, it can change our predominant state of being, which for most of us is a state of worry or various degrees of anxiety. The "negativity bias" or focusing on the negative and anticipating something bad and preparing for it is how we are wired as humans. But by developing our "gratitude muscle," we can shift it into a more balanced view of life and begin to expect good things to happen much more often.
Gratitude also aligns us with the things we desire and therefore we bring them into reality much more quickly and easily.
If you feel like you don't have much to be grateful for because of what might be happening in your life or around you, I would invite you to question that experience. Remember that our brain evolved to pay a lot more attention to the negative than the positive, about a 5 to 1 ratio. Especially when we are going through some challenges, our mind hyper-focuses on the negatives in our lives and takes the positives for granted, often not even noticing them.
So if you haven't been practicing gratitude intentionally, or have been inconsistent with it, today could be the perfect day to start, or make it more consistent or take it even deeper.
So how do we practice it? First, we want to learn how gratitude feels in the body. For this, we want to do a quick experiment. It's better to do it when you are not distracted.
~ Close your eyes and bring to mind something or someone you are genuinely grateful for. You feel blessed to have this person, pet, object, experience, etc. in your life. Stay with it for a few moments and pay close attention to how it feels in your body. You can open your eyes.
~ Now for contrast, close your eyes again and imagine someone or something that upsets you (pick something moderate, not overwhelming). And pay attention to how that feels in the body. Notice how different it is from the first experience. Open your eyes.
~ And one more time, repeat what you did the first time with a feeling of gratitude. By now it should be fairly easy for you to identify the energetic frequency of gratitude. Remember that feeling. And if you stay with it a little longer, it will change your state of being.
How can you integrate this practice into your day and develop your gratitude muscle? We want to turn it into a habit that over time is not going to require any conscious effort. You can use your gratitude journal if you like and simply feel it with everything you write down in it. It's better to write a few things and feel deep gratitude than make a big list and do it in the head only. To practice it throughout the day, it might be helpful to set some reminders, to begin with.
The secret is that we don't need to wait for something wonderful to happen to feel grateful. We can train that muscle by experiencing gratitude for little things like getting a green light when we are rushing to get somewhere, hearing a piece of good news, no matter how small, having a pleasant interaction with a coworker or a family member, etc. And the more we vibrate at this frequency, the more and greater reasons we will attract to feel even more grateful.
So how can you start practicing more gratitude today?
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Diana Vehuni, Ph.D., is a certified spiritual life coach, Mindfulness meditation teacher, and an artist. She brings together perennial mystical wisdom and cutting-edge scientific knowledge to facilitate profound transformation in her students and clients.